16 bald eagles die in Utah with mystery symptoms

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Sixteen bald eagles have died in north and central Utah this month from similar symptoms of a mystery illness, state wildlife officials said Friday.

Leslie McFarlane, a disease coordinator with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said the animals have been found dead or found ill and later died.

Wildlife officials have said the illness could be encephalitis, which is caused by West Nile Virus, though officials said it seems too late in the year for that.

They don’t believe the eagles were killed on purpose.

McFarlane said the symptoms include head tremors, signs of seizures, weakness in legs and feet and a paralysis of the bird’s wings.

The animals are being tested and officials hope for some preliminary results as soon as next week, she said.

“Because we aren’t 100 percent sure why they’re dying, it could be a possibility of several different things,” she said. “We’ve got a whole bunch of different testing to run so we can rule things in or out.”

Thousands of bald eagles migrate to Utah each winter, with many gathering at the Great Salt Lake where there’s plenty of carp to eat in freshwater bays. The recent rash of deaths has raised alarms in Utah.

Phil Douglass, a conservation outreach manager with DWR, said most of the eagles showing the symptoms have been found along the Wasatch Front, in northern and central parts of the state. They’ve been reported as far south as Utah County and as far north as Box Elder and Weber Counties.

Besides the 16 animals that have died, another four eagles are displaying similar symptoms and being treated at a rehabilitation center, McFarlane said.

Officials warn people not to pick up any sick or dead animal or try to handle them if they encounter them in the wild.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com

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